We Are Different

W hen we opened the Peace & Justice Academy in September 2009, we were in a position to consider everything that makes a school work – from how many hours of sleep the average high-schooler needs to the best classroom wall color, scientifically speaking. We designed the kind of school to which we would want to send our own children. In fact, it is the kind of school we wish we had attended. Here’s some of what we think makes us different:

·         Our Community
All students are accepted, respected and valued by the staff and all other students. We are a small school, and we work in process groups, tirelessly promoting kindness and tolerance. When children find themselves in a safe environment – an emotionally as well as physically safe environment – they are free to be who they really are, and they blossom.
·         Peace & Justice Worldview
The twin themes of peace and justice run through all our classes and activities. Our worldview is based on the example of the life of Jesus, on the work of God in the world, and in the final analysis, on what gives meaning to our lives, individually and collectively.
·         Late Start
The school day begins at 9:00 am to reflect scientific studies that indicate teenagers do better with extra sleep in the morning.
·         Extended Day
Homework is started at school with teacher assistance available. Students stay till 5:00 pm Monday – Friday. Parents can save money on afterschool programs.
·         Peace & Justice Labs
Our Friday field trips into the community allow us to learn about issues experientially, first-hand. For example, we’ll feed the homeless, but we’ll fast until they are fed so that we begin to feel what homelessness is and can think about how to reduce it.
·         Community Covenant
We choose to operate a school without punishment. Students begin the year by brainstorming the kind of learning environment they desire and composing a covenant with the teachers, staff and other students. Students sign the agreement and take ownership. Throughout the year, disagreements are settled using the Community Covenant.
·         Chapel
Rooted in the Mennonite tradition of Christian worship, our weekly chapel draws on a wide variety of expressions of worship, and, at times, exposes students to worship from other faith traditions. Students are encouraged to participate in leading worship, if and when they feel comfortable.
·         KIVA Microloans
We want students to know they can change the world. We started a microloan program to show students that just a little money can make a big difference. They bring in their own money to fund microloans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. We get to know the stories of the borrowers. We also learn about geography, economics, and history. When our loans are repaid, we re-loan the money.
 Classroom technology
Every student is issued a laptop computer to use in class. The campus has high-speed internet and the computers are used throughout the day, whenever appropriate.
·         Digital Media
This elective teaches students all aspects of video production and publication on the web. Students learn how media have been used to manipulate an audience and how media can be used to persuade and educate.
·         Foreign Language
Using Rosetta Stone online, our students can choose from over two dozen languages, including Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese) and Arabic.
·         Physical Education/Aikido
Our physical education program instructs students in a defensive martial art called Aikido. The goal is to protect oneself and one’s attacker, bringing the encounter to a peaceful resolution. Students can graduate with a black belt, and can choose peace from a position of strength rather than fear.

The Mennonite Tradition

 The 1500’s were a time of incredible change in Western Europe, including in the Christian church. At that time the Catholic Church was established by governments as the only expression of Christian faith, but dissent was brewing. Martin Luther and his followers broke away from the Catholic Church in protest over the corruption he saw. Other reformers also broke away and formed new Christian movements. One of these movements was called Anabaptism. While Luther and his followers were glad to have the state government establish and protect their church, just as other governments protected the Catholic Church, Anabaptists were different.

Anabaptists believed the church should be separate from the state. This is such a fundamental premise of American culture that it may be hard to imagine a time when state mandated religion was considered the norm. But during such a time the Anabaptists taught that becoming a Christian required an act of free will – of personal choice – it could not be imposed by a government or chosen by a baby. Although they had been baptized as infants, the believers re-baptized each other upon their adult confessions of faith. (Anabaptist literally means “again-baptizing.”) They refused to let the state churches baptize their children. Most contemporary Christians now teach the importance of making a personal commitment to faith... but it wasn’t always so.

In 1536, a former Catholic Priest named Menno Simons gathered together groups of Anabaptists who took literally Jesus’ title as Prince of Peace and tried to live out Christ’s directives to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. As they organized under Menno Simons’ leadership, they became known as Mennonites. Because of their opposition to state religion and their commitment to peacemaking, the early Mennonites were hunted down, tortured, killed, and exiled from many places.

The search for religious freedom led Mennonites to the same place it led the Pilgrims, the new world of the American colonies. The first permanent Mennonite settlement was established in the Germantown section of Philadelphia in 1683. Mennonites, though remaining a small denomination, flourished in the United States, teaching peacemaking, offering relief during disasters, establishing health and educational institutions and working on justice for all.

Today Mennonites number almost 1.5 million, living in 75 countries around the world. For more information CLICK HERE. The Mennonite Education Agency provides leadership for more than 40 elementary and secondary schools, colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States and Canada. The Peace & Justice Academy is the first Mennonite school in California.

In Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” In the words of Menno Simons:

“True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.
It clothes the naked.
It feeds the hungry.
It comforts the sorrowful.
It shelters the destitute.
It serves those that harm it.
It binds up that which is wounded.
It has become all things to all people.”